The legacy of tenor statesman Joe Henderson (April 24, 1937-June 30, 2001) has awakened considerable recent interest in Gotham as many musicians of note are busily re-examining his styles, compositions and recordings. Tenorist Javon Jackson led the latest group tribute to Henderson last week at the Jazz Standard. Another celebration will follow quickly on Feb.7 when Renee Rosnes leads an all-star contingent into Dizzy's Club Coca-cola with a show dubbed The Music of Joe Henderson: Phantom of the Bopera.
Joe Henderson was a complete musician/composerone of the first of pure bred jazzmen to explore the full range of contemporary American musics. During childhood he quickly mastered drums, piano, saxophone and composition later studying formally at Kentucky State College and Wayne State University (alongside Curtis Fuller and Yusef Lateef) and appearing with Kenny Dorham and Sonny Stitt while briefly leading his own big band. One of Detroit's mainstay boppers, his early success included a memorable solo on Horace Silver's Song for My Father. From 1963 to 1968 Henderson appeared on nearly thirty albums for Blue Note records working, during those years, with Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Andrew Hill et al. His multi-directional evolution began with a brief stint with Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1971 and experiments with avant-garde ideas. Jazz-funk fusion, studio overdubbing and other electronic effects. His saxophone style avoided the slavish Coltrane schools of the 60's, and evolved into an Ornette Coleman- inspired freedom and a Sonny Rollins- inspired soul. A forceful individualism resulted and it is this quality, along with his compositional achievements, that has propelled these latest tributes.
The Javon Jackson-led commemoration (Mode for Joe: A Tribute to Joe Henderson) at The Jazz Standard last week featured drummer Joe Chambers who worked so often with Henderson. Others in the group included fluglehornist Jeremy Pelt, bassist Dwayne Burno, and pianist Anthony Wonsey. Henderson's influence on Jackson was dutifully demonstrated as the lanky young tenor player emulated the intervallic leaps, cacophonous growls and biting attack of his mentor and also provided scholarly commentary as the set moved along. Although some late night lethargy clouded the performance, the soloing had intriguing moments especially when Pelt stepped up to the plate playing lugubrious multi-noted legato lines. The band commenced matters with Henderson's Recorda Me, segued into his memorable Serenity and, after a pleasant 'Round Midnight divertissement closed the set with Homestretch- a composition from Joe Henderson's first recording as a leader on the album Page One.
The tribute continued a Jazz Standard tradition of such retrospectives. Musical tributes can be moribund experiences but the club has steadfastly adhered to rigorous, well-researched programming and the results have been a welcome addition to the all-important task of introducing the strategic jazz repertory to new audiences.